Tag Archives: railroad radio

RAILROAD SCANNER BASE ANTENNA DO-IT-YOURSELF

Photo of finished scanner base antenna #1
Outdoor Scanner Base Antenna in PVC Example 1 (© Copyright 2015 1WP)

In this blog article, we will discuss how to build a  railroad scanner base antenna do-it-yourself, for receiving railroad signals can be built, & tuned to the railroad frequency band for better receive results. All main railroad radio channels are found in the FM VHF 159 MHZ – 161.565 MHz range. This homemade antenna will be tuned to the middle of that band, at about 161.000 MHz. This is not too critical, but does help in receiving results.

[*Disclaimer: always use safety glasses, be safe with sharp tools, & get help with projects, especially when mounting the finished antenna. Do NOT mount or work anywhere near live power lines or electrical areas. We are not responsible for, do not hold any liabilites, & do not cover any warranties for any accidents or results of this project, before, during, & after, including any possible damage to property or equipment- including possible damage to equipment from lightning, due to not properly grounding the equipment or not removing the antenna from the equipment before any lightning storms, etc.  This article will only give steps on how to make this antenna, & not about mounting the finished product, etc. Results of this project may vary, depending on your location of where railroads are located, etc.*]

Needed:

-About 52″ L of twin TV antenna flat ribbon lead (2 pieces of wire can be used w/ the coating, but for this project flat TV ribbon cable is used. The kind WITHOUT the foam is better, but will still work.)
-Soldering gun
-Silver Solder
-Safety Glasses
-Wire stripper
-Knife
-About 5 – 6 ft of 1/2 – 3/4 ” diameter PVC pipe
-1 PVC cap to fit over 1 end of that pipe
– Some RG58 or 59 coax cable w/ a PL259 end soldered on the end- length will vary- least 20 feet to make sure there is enough to reach inside a house/shack to the scanner radio. If more is needed later,  purchase extra coax, & use a double female end connector to go between 2 PL259 ends.
-1 wire tie
-1 Marker/Pen
-Silicone caulk
-About 1/8″ drill bit with drill
-Hacksaw

RR Scanner Antenna Drawing
Custom Drawing of The Custom RR Scanner Base Antenna in This Article (© Copyright 2015 1WP™)

(Click for a larger view of photo)

Directions:

1. Wear safety glasses.

2. Strip about 1/2″ of the plastic coating from the wires on each side & ends of the ribbon cable, then twist the braided wire of each wire end. On each end of the ribbon cable, twist 2 of the stripped wires together to form a triangle. Solder the wires together where they are twisted together.

3. Lay the flat ribbon with the soldered ends flat on a table. You can make either end the top or bottom. Next measure on the right side from the top tip down about 34″ & mark. Then measure down from that mark about 1.5 – 2 “, & mark that. Cut out that 1.5 – 2″ chunk of that wire on the right side ONLY (do not cut all the way across the ribbon wire).

4. Measure from the bottom tip of the ribbon wire up to about 1.74″ – 3.48″, and carefully strip the plastic wire coating from the wire about 1/4″ to expose the wire on the right and left sides with a knife.

5. Strip about 1″ – 2 ” of the outer black covering from the RG 58/59 coax cable (try not to damage or cut the braided wire under that outer covering). Then pull the inner/center conductor out of the braided wire, and strip about 1/2″ – 1″ of the plastic insulation from the inner wire. Next carefully twist the braided wire to make it into a tighter wire itself.

6. Solder the center conductor wire to the LEFT part of the ribbon wire that was stripped to about 1.74″ – 3.48″ up from the bottom tip previously. Next solder the braided wire on the RIGHT stripped side. If necessary, wrap electrical tape around these soldered joints.

7. Drill a hole through the center plastic towards the top of the ribbon wire. This is where the plastic wire tie will go through later.

8. Drill a 1/8″ hole through both sides of the PVC pipe at 1 end only (about 2″ down from the top).

9. Feed the top of the ribbon wire (with the center hole at the top) through the PVC pipe, until it reaches the drilled holes in the top of the pipe. Feed the wire tie through the hole on 1 side of the pipe, through the center hole of the ribbon wire, & through the hole on the other side of the pipe.  Next, wrap the wire tie around the pipe while zipping the tie to secure it. This keeps the ribbon wire antenna inside the pipe from falling down, when it is in a vertical position.

10. Next seal the opening of the bottom of the PVC pipe with silicone caulk & let dry. Also seal the holes at the top where the wire tie goes through the pipe.

11. Install the PVC cap on the top part of the pipe (gluing the cap may not be needed if it fits tight over the end of the pipe).

12. *Stay away from any live power lines or electrical areas when mounting this or any antenna outside. It is best to get a helper at this point.* Mount the pipe vertically to a board or post, etc. to get it high in the air if possible (max. at about 20 ft from the top of the antenna pipe- guy wires/rope will be needed if mounted over 20 ft). Make sure to keep the clamps at least 55″ or more down from the top of the PVC pipe (to prevent the clamps from going over the internal ribbon antenna wire, to help avoid interference from the metal clamps).

13. Plug in the other end of the coax cable with the PL259 connector to the scanner, program the scanner to the proper RR frequencies, & listen for any transmissions.

Photo of finished base scanner antenna in PVC #2
Outdoor Scanner Base Antenna in PVC Example 2 (© Copyright 2015 1WP)
-Additional:

Sometimes using an inline receiving amp will also help with receiving signals. Most (not all) signal amps for TV antennas will work.  Proper connectors to transition from the RCA jacks to the PL259s may also be needed, depending on the amp.

Grounding this antenna is usually not necessary. However always unplug this & any antenna from the radio(s) when not in use, during thunderstorms, or if there is a potential for thunderstorms in the area.  This will help prevent lighting from possibly damaging the radio.   [*Always disconnect any antenna cables from equipment before & during any lightning storms.]

Railroad signals will vary depending on location. If near railroads, scanners will most likely pick up railroad dispatchers, train crews announcing signals, talking to each other, & with dispatchers. Sometimes only 1 side of the conversation can be heard, due to the location of the scanner, crews, atmospheric conditions at the time, etc.  RR defect detectors that announce information to trains passing over them at certain locations may also be heard. It’s best to search-scan the whole 159-161.565 MHz, if the scanner has that feature (see the radio’s instruction manual). As signals are heard, it’s suggested to write down each frequency, & program them in. Sometimes different days/nights will bring in different stations/channels.

Presently,  railroads are still using analog transmissions mostly. They have extended the bands some where the frequencies are more tightly tuned. However with those particular frequencies, transmissions should still be heard, but with a slight hiss or drop in volume. Eventually when the RRs switch over to all-digital transmissions, analog scanners will no longer be able to pick those signals up. Purchasing a digital scanner for those transmissions will then be necessary. It may still take another 10 or so years before the railroads change all radios to digital, but that could be sooner or later.

This base scanner antenna can now be used to listen to railroad transmissions from farther away, on base or hand-held scanners, with the proper connectors.

Hope this blog-article helps, & enjoy!

Photo of a base scanner antenna
Outdoor Scanner Base Antenna in PVC Example 1 (© Copyright 2015 1WP)

 

 

This article, its content, & all photos/illustrations © Copyright 2015 1WP/PJ. Duplication prohibited.